Colours of Snow
to the Pipers
(US) Vanity and Vexation
LIONS AND LIQUORICE
Published in USA under title:
VANITY AND VEXATION: a novel of Pride and Prejudice
‘You don’t have to have read Pride and Prejudice – much
less remember it – to enjoy the rewrite. It
works beautifully in its own right. If you do know
Austen’s novel, you get double the fun… The
tone is witty, the pace quick, and the emotions true to the
The Washington Post
sparkling, frothy tale
There are neat inversions of
Austen's plot, lively characters, intelligent writing and
a fun love affair
The Sunday Times
Exciting, sexy, funny
optimistic tale is the perfect summer read
A witty and
clever love story that will keep you gripped until the end
- guaranteed to get even the most cynical of readers heaving
a deep sigh of contentment.
Frothy, humorous and slick
'Tall, dark and
arrogantly handsome - not to mention distinguished, powerful
and rolling in money. Mr Darcy? No, that's just the woman
director of Pride and Prejudice
so reports Nicholas Llewellyn Bevan, impoverished novelist
and occasional (reluctant) journalist, when a TV production
company trundles into his dozy North Yorkshire valley. Bemusedly
he watches these glamorous invaders combine the filming of
Jane Austen's romantic classic with the much less decorous
pursuit, off-camera, of real-life romances with the locals.
Under our reporter's very nose, his bashful
neighbour is plucked out of a village dance by the famously
gorgeous leading actress, with whom he at once falls besottedly
in love. Our would-be hero manages only to trip over the black-booted
foot of the director. So he's amazed - not to say alarmed
- when her steely eye seems to be straying his way.
His literary agent George, though, is ecstatic.
Interest from a bigshot movie producer like her could catapult
a struggling novelist into instant bestsellerdom. George orders
him to ooze his best Celtic charm and wrap the red roses in
proofs of his latest thriller.
Which leaves Nicholas Llewellyn Bevan in
a quandary. What's this poor-but-honest hack to do - lie back
and think of Hollywood?
footnote: AUSTEN THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS
Everyone tells you the second novel's hard. It had been. Very.
But, after sweating the requisite buckets of blood, I'd got there
in the end, and confidently waited for inspiration to gush on the
third. It didn't.
Sorry. As source material for amusing repartee, writer's block
ranks right up there with motorway traffic jams and IKEA assembly
manuals. Besides, I'm truly not the kind of wally who sits around
waiting for the muse to alight. No way. Straight after Dancing
to the Pipers, I had rolled up the sleeves afresh and set to
work on a book which - somehow - wouldn't catch fire. It should
have done. It was set in a local radio station so, on the well-known
premise that you should write about what you know, I ought to have
been home and dry, after all those years of employment at the BBC.
I wish I could explain why it didn't work - why, God knows, so many
other manuscripts have slowly turned up their toes and died on me.
One depressingly plausible reason might be affluence, courtesy of
my husband. If I'd had four kids and a starving mortgage, I simply
couldn't have wasted several weeks or months faffing around with
a story which wasn't coming alive. I'd either have put it right,
or abandoned it at Chapter Three, not Chapter Thirty-Three.
Be that as it may, after my editor, Richenda had felt obliged to
agree that the book wasn't much cop, I plummeted into the Slough
of Despond. Like you would, chucking out several months of sweated
labour - again. Enough to make anyone wonder whether they shouldn't
have taken up accountancy or zoo-keeping or some other gainful employment.
I suppose I poodled around for a few weeks, taking geranium cuttings,
glaring at the river, barking at sheep, usual kind of thing, getting
grumpier and grumpier. And, as I recall, rather fat, too. At length
- and I promise this is entirely true - I went to bed one night
and in the depths of my self-loathing asked God, please, just to
give me one decent idea for a novel. This isn't something I'm in
the habit of doing. I reckon the Almighty has far more important
things on His mind than the piffling crises of an inky hack in rural
North Yorkshire. I'm embarrassed even to admit to having troubled
Him. Except I woke up with - clear as daylight - a brilliant idea.
Well, I thought it was a brilliant idea. I'd re-write Pride and
No, I wasn't suffering from a grandiose delusion that Jane Austen's
classic needed a posthumous polish. I was seeing the ultimate comic
subversion of the romance game. P & P, after all, is surely
the sublime blueprint which has cloned hundreds - thousands, tens
of thousands - of markedly less sublime imitations, the fluffy girl-meets-boy/girl-hates-boy/girl-marries-boy
tales which have tended to give the whole genre a bad name. Darcy,
the rich and powerful master of Pemberley, is surely your definitive
tall, dark and to-die-for hero. Lizzy, not as beautiful as her elder
sister, is the perfect, sparky and likeable heroine. And she does
contrive, very plausibly, to loathe Darcy for an awful lot of pages
before seeing the light. Actually, there are those who suggest she
doesn't so much see the light as see the glories of Pemberley spread
before her on her holiday up north, and twig what she's turning
down. Sensible girl, Elizabeth Bennet.
My idea was this, though. Not merely did I want to update this
classic story to the present day, I planned to reverse all the sexes.
This wouldn't just be Pride & Prejudice minus bonnets
and bosoms, with Porsches instead of horses and mobile phones in
place of quill pens, I wanted a very different sort of hero. You
see, for all I realize this sounds like sacrilege and, believe me,
I adore the novel and have been profoundly and unutterably in love
with Mr Darcy since the age of thirteen, I cannot help feeling that
neither he, nor his darker and moodier brothers Mr Rochester and
Heathcliff, are credible heroes for today's world. Be honest. Can
you see Darcy changing nappies? Heathcliff and Rochester pushing
trolleys round Sainsbury's? Quite.
So Mr Darcy, with all his daunting wealth, status and influence,
was going to become Ms Darcy - Mary Dance, perhaps? And I didn't
have to trouble myself working out a plot. Jane Austen had supplied
it. All I had to do was take her story, strand-by-strand, and see
if I could rework it credibly in drag, as it were, and in the context
of the contemporary world. The key to doing this came to me almost
immediately, from a half-formed idea I'd been toying with ever since
Yorkshire Television began filming Heartbeat up the road.
Time was we lived the Esk Valley. These days we live in Heartbeat
country. I'd long been fascinated by the impact the arrival of a
television film unit has on a rural village. To say they land like
Martians in flying saucers is to understate. OK, they may have assumed
human form but you can spot these aliens at a hundred paces, no
problem. Is it the aura of glamour they exude? The designer handbags?
The accents? I dunno, but they sure stir a place up.
So here was my vehicle. My female Darcy figure would be a bigshot
director, come to Nicholas Llewellyn Bevan's sleepy little village
to film - what else? - an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.
Finding the parallels for Austen's meticulous social structure was
a fascinating process. Central to the original plot, of course,
is that the relationship between Lizzy and Darcy is not just a flowery
love story. As the publicity machine for the BBC's own delicious
adaptation of the book plugged relentlessly, this is a tale of sex,
power and money. In hooking Darcy, Lizzy has made a very smart career
move. Women, after all, had precious few options until relatively
recent times, and the best and most profitable was undoubtedly a
What taxed me was finding a sex-reversed equivalent today. The
answer was to make the Lizzy Bennet figure a struggling writer.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Hollywood taking an
interest - better still an option - in a novelist's work is a sure
fire way to propel that novelist into serious sales figures and
the shelves at Tesco's. This female Darcy has the power to transform
our boy-next-door's life in a big way.
The frightening prospect for me, though, was that my 'heroine'
- the character through whose eyes and thoughts most of the story
would be experienced - was a man. Writing not just a novel but a
romantic comedy from a male perspective seemed a pretty bold step.
I embarked on it almost as an experiment, a joke. I had nothing
to lose, I told myself, so why not give it a go, see if it worked?
To my surprise, it seemed to. I certainly had no problem believing
what I wrote. In fact I found the process fantastically liberating.
Oh, the lengths to which I'd had to go before, trying to make my
heroines as different as possible from me. The anxious care with
which I'd described faces and figures in every respect unlike my
own. But no one was likely to confuse me with a bloke, were they?
So into Mr Bevan's scruffy, unshaven persona I could safely pour
my whole heart and soul. He, like me, was a novelist earning respectable
reviews and less than respectable money. He worked in an attic overlooking
the moors, with a shelf close to his desk on which were arrayed
all the foreign language editions of his novels to make it look
as though he'd turned out more than the two (to date) he'd actually
written. And I shared with him all - and I mean all - the problems
of the writing process. He, like me, had a dead novel chest in which
were stored the manuscripts which had failed. Or those on which,
as he put it, he'd reluctantly had to declare brain death and pull
out the word processor plugs. He had yet to decide whether it was
best to plan a novel beforehand, or just plunge ahead on a wing
and a prayer. Mr Bevan's me all right, much more directly than any
other of my characters. He just happens to be a man.
And the book simply poured out, at least for the first dozen or
so chapters. God it was bliss - rapture - after months of chipping
out words as with a nail file from granite. It felt so terrific,
I gave my alter ego hero a matching burst of rabid creativity. Nicholas
Llewellyn Bevan bashed out twelve fluent chapters, and then
Well, let's just say I had a further bright idea, and both my book
and his life changed course as a result.
Perhaps the craziest bit of life imitating art, though, is that
I was approached by a Hollywood producer after writing this book.
No kidding. She came up to York and took me out to lunch. There
was a Welsh independent television company interested as well -
another free lunch. I almost took to wearing shades and booked in
for the face-lift, but
the movie has yet to materialize. As
I've reflected elsewhere, life isn't nearly so satisfying as fiction.
Besides, I'm not complaining. Woman's Hour serialized an
abridgement, it was recorded in its entirety by a talking book company,
and the paperback was sighted on the best seller stand at more than
one airport and railway station. Not by me - although I was strongly
tempted to hop on a train and do a tour of the London terminals
just to view this extraordinary phenomenon. I just ploughed on with
the next book - and, you may be sure, thanked God.
Incidentally, there's a curious postscript. A while later, I read
in The Sunday Times that Channel Four (or it may have been
BBC 2) was commissioning a contemporary, sex-reversed re-working
of Pride & Prejudice, scripted by Fay Weldon, under the
title 'The Bevan Boys'. I was rather startled to learn that the
female Darcy figure was set to be a movie producer, and even more
taken aback to be telephoned by The Daily Express with an
invitation to accuse the production company of blatant plagiarism.
Since I'm perfectly sure the distinguished likes of Fay Weldon don't
need to borrow ideas from the likes of me, I didn't. But I'm quite
mean-spirited enough to be glad, several years on, that there's
been no sign of the project.